Garden to Table

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When I was a kid, we always planted a small backyard garden every year, usually just a few tomato, pepper and zucchini plants in a small space under our kitchen window. I remember how much I loved the smell of tomatoes and peppers growing on the vine, and I couldn’t wait to see the plants transform their blossoms to fruit. As small as our garden was, it was always very special walking out in the backyard and returning to the kitchen with the few ingredients we would use that same night. Something that is picked immediately when it’s ripe and eaten within hours is a totally different flavor experience.

Tending a garden is a constant education. There’s a real connection that happens when you care for your plants — that love you give your garden with weeding, watering, fertilizing and providing protection from predators rewards you with beautiful ingredients for your kitchen.

Fall harvest is here, with its abundance of produce ready to transform into beautiful autumn dishes or put up for the winter season. But it can be a little daunting when all of those tomato and zucchini plants burst with fruit all at once! Here’s some inspiration to help you enjoy some additional ways to cook with your bounty.

Pam Sawyer is an independent recipe developer and instructor.


Serves 4 | Start to finish: about 50 minutes

ESEAHere’s a quick and easy alternative tart crust that’s light, less complicated than pastry, and naturally gluten-free. The polenta crust holds its shape beautifully and is just as versatile on a dinner table or as a perfect option for casual entertaining. Leftovers make a great, fuss-free workday lunch. You can also parbake the crust ahead of time, store in the refrigerator overnight, and then assemble and bake the next day. This is a great tart to make year-round by altering the ingredients to take advantage of what is in season.

Polenta Crust:

2 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup corn grits (polenta)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt Non-stick cooking spray (to grease tart pan)

Balsamic Shallots:

2 teaspoons rice bran oil
1 large shallot, sliced thin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Tart filling:

1 bunch fresh basil leaves (10–12 large leaves, plus some for garnish)
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
2 slices prosciutto, cut crosswise into wide ribbons
1/4 cup balsamic shallots
Handful of small heirloom tomatoes, sliced or quartered
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 400°F

Grease a rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom (about 13- inch by 4-inch) with non-stick cooking spray and set it aside.

For the polenta crust: In a medium sauce pan over high heat, bring water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil. Gradually stir in the corn grits. Reduce heat and simmer gently, stirring frequently until thick, about 10 minutes. Cool the polenta for a few minutes and then spread the polenta evenly down the center of the tart pan with a spatula. Lightly oil your hands with cooking spray or cooking oil and evenly press the polenta into the tart pan, working from the middle up to the fluted sides of the pan. Bake the crust on the middle oven rack for 25–30 minutes until firm.

Make the balsamic shallots: Heat the rice bran oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, saute 5–10 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and edges are lightly browned and crispy. Reduce heat, stir in the balsamic vinegar, and cook until syrupy, about 1 minute. Season lightly with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Remove from heat and set aside in a small bowl.

To assemble tart: Line bottom of baked tart shell with basil leaves. Top basil leaves with mozzarella slices. Season lightly with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Dot the top of mozzarella with the prosciutto ribbons and balsamic shallots. Arrange tomatoes on top as the final layer. Season lightly with fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake tart for 10 minutes or until hot and the cheese has melted. Cool 5–10 minutes before releasing tart from the pan. Cut into portions and garnish with additional basil before serving.


Makes about 2 dozen | Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 min

This makes a great small-plate appetizer or a first course. If you have larger peppers in your garden, this can be made into a main course, paired with a soup or salad. The caponata filling freezes well, so it’s worth the effort even if you are making only half the quantity of peppers.

Caponata filling: (makes 2 cups)
1 large red onion, small dice (2 cups)
1 small eggplant, small dice (2 cups)
1 large zucchini, small dice (2 cups)
1 large red bell pepper, small dice (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup rice bran oil or alternative high-heat cooking oil
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste}
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in
1/4 cup dry sherry, overnight, or minimum
2 hours, drained
1/4 cup pitted green olives, chopped
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
2 tablespoons small capers, drained and rinsed

Stuffed peppers:

2 dozen mini bell peppers, halved lengthwise, seeds removed caponata filling
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese, to garnish

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F.

For the caponata: In a large bowl, combine the red onion, eggplant, zucchini, and red bell pepper with the rice bran oil or alternative high-heat cooking oil to coat. Season lightly with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Spread out in one even layer on a large, unlined baking pan and roast until light brown and tender, about 45 minutes. Halfway through baking, turn vegetables with a spatula and rotate the pan for even baking. Remove pan from the oven and cool completely.

Once cooled, combine the roasted vegetables with the raisins, olives, and capers. Season to taste with sea salt and ground black pepper. This can be made several days in advance for flavors to develop. Refrigerate caponata until ready to use.

To assemble the peppers: Arrange the halved peppers in a baking dish cut side up. Stuff each pepper generously with the caponata filling. Any unused caponata filling can be refrigerated or frozen for later use. Bake in the center of the oven for approximately 25 minutes or until filling is heated through and peppers are tender.

Serve baked peppers topped with feta cheese.


Serves 2 to 4 | Start to finish: about 45 minutes

ESEASpiral vegetable slicers are a convenient way to create fun pasta-like noodle dishes.

Creating oodles of healthy noodles is so simple with a spiral slicer — with a twist of the handle, you can turn raw vegetables into a variety of long noodle or ribbon shapes. This recipe uses a spaghetti-size cutter attachment to create the long pasta-like noodles. If you don’t have a spiral slicer, you can use a julienne vegetable peeler. “Spiralized” zucchini cooks very quickly, which also makes it a perfect weeknight meal option. And, if you have an abundance of zucchini growing in your garden, it’s a great way to stay on top of your harvest.

1 medium green zucchini, trimmed
1 medium yellow zucchini, trimmed
1 quart cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 medium red jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice bran oil or alternative high-heat oil
fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons rice bran oil or alternative high-temp cooking oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped oregano
extra virgin olive oil, to garnish
Parmesan cheese, grated, to garnish

Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat oven to 400°F.

Using a spiral vegetable slicer or a julienne vegetable peeler, cut green and yellow zucchini lengthwise into long, thin strands or strips. Set aside until ready to cook.

In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes, shallot, garlic, and jalapeno pepper with 1/4 cup of rice bran oil. Lightly season with sea salt and black pepper. Spread mixture evenly on a baking pan and roast 20–25 minutes, or until tomatoes are blistered. Halfway through baking, turn mixture with a spatula and rotate the pan for even baking. Keep the blistered tomato mixture warm until ready to toss with the noodles.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons rice bran oil and heat until shimmering. Add the zucchini noodles and saute quickly, just until heated through, about 1 minute. You want the noodles to be a little firmer than al dente. Cook in 2 batches if necessary to cook quickly and not overcrowd the pan. Add the blistered tomatoes with all of the juices to the pan and toss quickly with the noodles until just heated through. Turn off the heat and add the oregano. Serve garnished with olive oil and grated parmesan cheese.


Makes 1 quart | Start to finish: about 1 hour, plus freezing time

ESEAEgg-free ice cream is a traditional American-style method that is less complex to make than custard-based ice cream, especially since you don’t have to worry about properly tempering eggs to prevent curdling. Black plums have a purple exterior and red flesh that gives the ice cream this beautiful purple hue. Roasting intensifies the plum flavor and the balsamic vinegar balances the sweetness with a hint of acidity. A couple tablespoons of vodka will keep the ice cream from freezing rock solid and give it a softer texture. Look for local plums at the peak of the season for the best results.

1 1/2 pounds ripe black plums, halved and pitted
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/3 cups cane sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons vodka (optional)

Heat oven to 425°F

Place the plums in a baking dish, cut side up. Roast for 20–25 minutes, or until the plums are soft and jammy. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes.

While the plums are roasting, prepare the cream mixture. Put the cream, milk, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool for 15 minutes.

Transfer half of the roasted plums to a blender with half of the cream mixture and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Blend the remaining roasted plums with the remaining cream until smooth. Add to the same bowl. Stir in the balsamic vinegar. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, stir the vodka into the plum/cream mixture. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. The mixture will not freeze completely hard in the machine. The ice cream is ready to freeze once it has doubled in volume and reached a thick soft-serve consistency. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze until solid before serving.

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